What would have happened to Winger had not a Danish midget with time keeping issues thrown darts at a picture of their bass player / lead singer Kip Winger in a video for an extremely overrated ballad by an extremely overrated band? Or if Beavis & Butthead’s dorky friend Stuart hadn’t worn a Winger shirt and maybe worn a Poison shirt instead? Because stupid as it seems, it was after the dart throwing incident by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield and when Beavis & Butthead started to become popular Winger’s problems started. Winger became the punching bag of the melodic hard rock era (no, I will never use the term “hair metal” as there isn’t, has never been and will never be a genre that is called hair metal – it’s both stupid and condescending!) and for some reason the everyday rocker has decided that Winger were the cheesiest band of all times. Which, of course, is not only wrong, but also completely ridiculous. But the fact that Winger had brilliant musicians and great songs that rocked, didn’t seem to matter the least – Winger were shite and end of discussion. Which really says something about many people’s will to think for themselves. Still, I wasn’t too impressed with them when the first appeared on the scene in 1988. Sure, their debut sold millions and I quite liked the hits “Madeleine”, “Seventeen” and “Hungry” and yes I heard that Reb Beach was – and still is – a brilliant guitar player with a fine mix och feel and technique and that Rod Morgenstein – once with the Dixie Dregs that also featured Deep Purple’s Steve Morse – was an amazing drummer, but too me that album was way too uneven, an opinion I stand for to this day. The follow up In The Heart Of The Young (1990) was much better, but their singles “Can’t Get Enough”, “Easy Come, Easy Go” and the power ballad “Miles Away” gave them a reputation as one of all the melodic rock bands that were active around that time and nothing else. A shame because stuff like “Baptized By Fire” and “Rainbow In The Rose” and more, showed that Winger had a progressive side to them as well, something that got lost with all the cuteness of the early 90’s. When Winger released Pull in 1993, grunge had taken over and no one would even be caught dead with a Winger album, which is tragic because Pull is a masterpiece and showed many new sides to the band. To say that the album bombed is to put it mildly. I’d give it a 10/10 in heartbeat, though.
After a three album solo career from Kip Winger (guitarist Reb Beech played with Dokken for a while and is now one of the guitarists in Whitesnake as well), the band decided to reunite, like everybody else, in 2006 and their reunion album IV got a mixed reception. Many older fans thought it was way too progressive and weird, but I beg to differ. I think it’s a great album, but I can understand their opinions. But it was with the phenomenal album Karma from 2009 that has given the band a new start and all of a sudden people popped up from everywhere claiming how great this band is and no one even mentions two cartoon morons and darts. The album was a fine mix of the harder Winger that was born with Pull with a mix of their more catchy melodies from the late 80’s. To me, Karma is a tie with Pull when it comes to choose the best Winger record. Do I need to point out that when Winger returns after five years with a new album, expectations are high? As in HIGH! Now, as you might have guessed, Winger is one of my favourite bands so whenever a new album is due, it feels a bit tingly. I mean, you don’t want your favourites to release a crappy album and it would hurt me to slag them off here. But, even though a bit nervous, I wasn’t worried at all. I know that these guys are far too talented and good songwriters to release anything bad and this album is everything but bad. “Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine” is in my book the perfect album opener. A typical heavy rocker, a bit on shallow side lyrically, but driven and it reminds me of “Deal With The Devil”, the opener on Karma. It’s also the album’s second single. “Queen Babylon” is brilliant – a fine mix of Pull, Karma and In The Heart Of The Young and it sounds very much like a classic Winger tune. The first single “Rat Race” wasn’t an obvious choice for a single as it doesn’t have a radio friendly chorus, which feels quite cathartic, to be honest, but it’s a really good, straight forward rock song with a catchy melody. The title track is a bit softer, but on the more progressive side, a bit funky with a great groove – and I love it. “Tin Soldier” is, for some reason, the band’s third single – a really weird, but brave choice. The song is really progressive and isn’t one bit radio friendly, albeit a real killer and it sounds like a mix of IV, Kip’s solo stuff and something like the Dixie Dregs might have thought up. “Ever Wonder” is first ballad that shows up, but this is no “Miles Away” or any 80’s power balladry, no, this is on the darker side – brilliant!
If you take Kip Winger’s solo stuff and rock it up, you’ll get “So Long China”, an uptempo pop song with rocker twists and it makes think of how brilliant a song like “Nothing” from Kip’s solo album From The Moon To The Sun (2008) would have been as a Winger track. “Storm In Me” is a heavy and dark rocker with a recognizable Winger melody, “Be Who You Are, Now” is a grand ballad, really beautiful and not a far cry from “Always Within Me” from Karma and “Another Beautiful Day” is thrown in here as a bonus track and I can’t for my life figure out why. It’s a catchy rocker, classic Winger style that I would even consider a single. No, this should not have been a bonus track. The closer “Out Of This World” is another one of those big and emotional Winger ballads of lately. Gone are the days of “Miles Away” and “Headed For A Heartbreak” and even though I have a soft spot for those songs, they’re still a bit too cheesy. I prefer the more epic ballads they have written since their reunion. With their new album, Winger have once again provided an awesome album and it’s really time for people to remove their blinders and take this band for what they really are – a world-class rock act with quality songs and killer musicians and stop judging the band over what they were in the early 90’s. The Winger of today is a completely different beast and has only the members in common with their two first albums – well, at least three of them, anyway. To me, Karma was a perfect album, a 10/10 and this one is almost there as well, so if their last album was to your satisfaction, you’ll like this one as well – this one is just a bit more progressive. I love this band and I love this album – I hope they’ll never stop to release new music. Everyone should own this album – and the rest of their catalogue as well.
Jon Wilmenius (9/10)
01. Midnight Driver of a Love Machine
02. Queen Babylon
03. Rat Race
04. Better Days Comin’
05. Tin Soldier
06. Ever Wonder
07. So Long China
08. Storm In Me
09. Be Who You Are, Now
10. Another Beautiful Day (Deluxe Edition Bonus Track)
11. Out Of This World